Empathy in Clinical Health Care

August 18, 2014 7:49 PM

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Empathy in Clinical Health Care

A 45-year-old Hispanic gentleman became well known to the health system after presenting frequently with shortness of breath and abdominal pain. His primary care physician ordered multiple laboratory tests and radiologic scans which were unrevealing, and he was seen both a gastroenterologist and a cardiologist who found no organic explanation for his symptoms. He was ultimately diagnosed with functional pain. During his most recent visit to the emergency department for recurrent symptoms, the physician on call reviewed his records and experienced a visceral reaction of frustration, as though he wanted to grab the man by his shoulders and yell, "Don't you see that you might be suffering from hypochondriasis and that all of these tests and visits are a waste of your time and energy?" Instead, he checked a few labs and an abdominal X-ray "just to make sure everything was all right" and sent the patient on his way -- but this time with a referral to a psychiatrist.

The gentleman did not, of course, want to consider the fact that he exhibited recognizable signs of health anxiety, but decided that at the very least, he would have someone to talk to at a point that he felt discarded by everyone else. At his first visit with the psychiatrist, the man revealed that...

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